App Review: Poems by Heart; poets and know it

Alex Walls
April 9, 2013

Poetry by Heart

Penguin Group USA

Free on Apple iOS (poetry bundles £0.69)

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Poems by Heart is a wonderful concept, in theory.

An app which collects poems in a library for you to learn by heart, via a narrator and quizzes, Poems by Heart is an idea I immediately like, being, as I am, for the arts and More Noble Pursuits.

You can have the narrator read the whole poem (and choose whether you wish a resonant male or fluting female voice) through, read it line by line, or pause whenever you like.


There’s an option to ‘Learn This’, which takes you through various parts of the poem, filling in its words at different difficulty levels; if your memory fails you too much, you can’t progress to the next level.

You get two free poems to start; one is Shakespeare’s immortal ‘Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day?’ sonnet, which is certainly over done but oh so good, and the other William Blake’s Eternity.

After this, you’ll need to purchase a poetry bundle to slake your literary thirst (I can feel its effects already) which contain roughly four poems for £0.69 a bundle, with said bundles gathered into genres such as Romance or Elizabethan.

I understand that this is how the app makes money, but considering you can get classics for free from Amazon, I think Penguin might have made a few more poems free, or even offer three free poems a week, along with new bundles.

Speaking of which, there are seven such bundles, so the range is not great currently, but does include some good poetic basics or classics, if you will, such as Donne, Shelley, Keats, Dickinson, Poe and even Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky poem.

The narration is fairly flat; this probably aides memorising these poems, but is certainly no Shakespearean re-enactment, which is a shame – it’s often nice to listen to poetry when it’s read properly,  enunciated  with understanding and all that jazz, with a good example being Dylan Thomas.Poems 3

The memorisation techniques are useful and have staggered levels of difficulty in a simple but fairly novel way, by removing less and less obvious words.  You’re scored on your performance, turning memorisation into a (fairly uninteresting) game and you have a certain amount of time to fill in the blanks with the correct words.

There’s also a list of all the featured poets, which as I say needs to be expanded – not having Thomas, Hone Tuwhare, Walter de la Mare, Milton and more feels like a bit of a crime.  However the blurbs with each poet look good and are informative.

What is neat is the option to record your own recital of the poem, if you’re an aspiring actor, preparing for a school presentation or even just an aspiring poet wanting to learn about cadence etc.

The app is very neatly and well set out, and it looks great, with the Penguin font and simple, clean colours and images.

Poetry apps in general are something the App Store has been lacking somewhat, I feel; the ones I have found have been buggy as all out, not very attractive and a mixed bunch of poems.

But Penguin’s offering are one and all great poems and the app is well tailored to help you memorise them.  A much larger selection, with more free poems, and some voice actors might help make this brilliant.

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